With plenty of safety precautions in place, visitors enjoy a close view from about 8 feet from the beachhead, Vinyard said. Battle highlights include three huge explosions -- one equaling three sticks of dynamite -- and a star burst that shoots 50 feet high.
There's also a spectacular demonstration of a flamethrower -- a portable blowtorch weapon used to wipe out pockets of enemy resistance.
"If you're in the bleachers you can actually feel the heat of the flamethrower," says Vinyard. "And you can feel the concussion of some of the explosions."
No other facility in the nation does anything like this on this scale on a regular basis, says Vinyard.
It bills itself as the only museum entirely dedicated to telling the story of WWII in the Pacific.
About a year ago a former U.S. Marine and his young grandson found themselves walking through the museum gallery when the veteran came upon a giant mural of a vintage photo on the wall. The picture showed a group of Marines catching a breather on a hillside, remembers Vinyard. "The veteran pointed to one of the young Marines in the photo and said to his grandson, 'That's me. This is where we were.'"
Vinyard's story exemplifies the museum's mission, he said, "to inspire our youth by honoring our heroes."
Witnessing a 'transformation'
This Friday on a parade ground on a marshy barrier island off South Carolina, bands will play, Marines will march, the American flag will fly high, and a commanding general will speak.
Senior drill instructors will dismiss their platoons and hundreds of new graduates will shout, "aye aye sir!" or "aye aye ma'am!"
The drill instructors will then sheath their swords and march away.
With that -- Parris Island marks the end of another spectacular graduation ceremony and a fresh beginning for hundreds of new Marines.
Since it opened in 1915, the U.S. Marine Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, has become legendary through movies, songs and novels. It has also produced hundreds of thousands of fighting men and women. Military enthusiasts often join family members and other loved ones who visit "The Depot" to enjoy graduation ceremonies -- an unspoiled piece of Americana that's been largely unchanged for almost a century.
Oh, one ceremony modification worth noting: In the 1920s, a dog entered the picture. Marines adopted a canine mascot after German soldiers began referring to the hard-fighting Marines as "Devil Dogs."
Nowadays, that dog is a 16-month-old English Bulldog mascot named Lance Cpl. Legend.
According to Legend's handler, Lance Cpl. Alexandra Stamateris, the dog "goes absolutely berserk" on Thursdays and Fridays -- the usual days the Depot holds Family Day and Graduation Day. "We joke that he has such a hard life because on Thursdays and Fridays he gets to be pet by a thousand people."
Since the 1920s, Parris Island has hosted between 12 and 18 mascot bulldogs. Legend comes from a special bloodline, as the great-grandson of the University of Georgia mascot, UGA V.
During the ceremony, "you see America," says Col. Robert Jones, Parris Island's commanding officer for recruit training. Graduation represents a cross-section of society from every state in the union celebrating the transformation of men and women from recruits into Marines.
In fact, the physical transformation is so extreme that moms will run out on the parade grounds to hug their sons "and they'll end up hugging someone else's kid," Col. Jones says with a chuckle. "These young men and women change so much during their training," he explained. Jones said it's a physical change, but also a change inside. "They're more disciplined. They understand our core values of honor, courage and commitment."
It's the drill instructors, Jones said, "who make that transformation happen."
Not all of the ceremonies are public, however. Prior to the graduation the recruits, staff and drill instructors hold a private tradition. The Eagle Globe and Anchor ceremony recognizes the intense bond between the drill instructor and the recruit forged by their 70 days of extreme training.
"It's actually a very emotional ceremony," says Jones. The recruits are charged with carrying on the traditions and legacy of the Marines who came before them. "For a lot of the recruits you'll see tears come to their eyes as the drill instructor puts a small eagle globe and anchor emblem in the recruit's hand, shakes their hand, calls them Marines for the first time and tells them, 'job well done.'"
USS Midway: Unparalleled service
In San Diego lives a Navy pioneer named Midway.
The aircraft carrier USS Midway -- now a museum docked at the Navy Pier -- boasts quite a resume.